center for video and visionary art



Elements of the Spirit

January 30-March 12, 2016


This retrospective honors the life and painting of visionary artist MARK BAUM (1903-1997), whose prescient merging of the algorithmic and the spiritual has rarely been exhibited and never before on the West Coast.

Baum's work represents a journey toward a universal symbolism, which simultaneously invokes the mystery and palpability of spiritual awakening.

Baum was born in 1903 in what is now Poland into a conservative Jewish family. Following World War I and a daring emigration through occupied Europe to New York City in 1919, he turned to art. Mostly self-taught Baum became a respected painter of city- and landscapes in the late 1920s through the early 1950s, showing in the top galleries and collected by a number of museums, including the Whitney and the Frick, as well as the private collection of Alfred Stieglitz.


But following World War II, Baum became disillusioned with the representational art that had become his trademark, and he moved decisively to non-objective painting, developing a unique abstract "element." This element was derived from a revelation he had upon re-looking at his 1948 painting, Aspirational Staircase; specifically he sought to create a singular shape that, like the staircase, invoked a rhythmical, directional movement. He evolved this "element" over a decade from a spindly star shape (see Untitled Blue below), arriving at its final form in the late 1960s (see Adventure at top). Baum would paint exclusively using this element until his death in 1997.


This change to abstraction also corresponded with Baum's move out of the New York art scene and to rural Maine, where he painted in a converted barn and nurtured an extensive garden. Working in virtual obscurity for almost three decades, Baum saw his work as a quest to express something larger, more in tune with nature and the spiritual.



In the final decade of his life Baum painted his increasingly minimal compositions on solid black backgrounds, using the subtle fluctuations of the colors of the elements to invoke movement, emotions, and a sense of communion.

Baum's algorithmic approach--using a basic, binary system of element/not-element--in order to manifest entire worlds through various combinations of a single form demonstrates a prescient understanding of our current, digitally infused world. But his paintings underscore that this is only a tool by which to seek out real, profound connections between the human and the divine, a way to sing with the universe.

"We look at the universe; the vastness of the billions of stars and space without end--physical aspects--we relate to it continuously with a sense of awe." -Mark Baum


A documentary �The Changing Light: The Life and Painting of Mark Baum� has been produced in association with this exhibition. Additionally a catalogue with more than 35 plates and an essay by art historian and critic Leora Lutz is also available.